Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Train travel is one of the best ways to see Europe – the continent’s fairly compact so it’s easy to get around, and you can sit back and soak up the stunning views with a picnic. But if you’re planning a rail trip, most of the suggested itineraries seem to be geared up for Interailers on month-long trips. It doesn’t have to be this way though – you can have a mini European rail adventure too. Pick a region and a few destinations and get planning (the Seat 61 and Deutsche Bahn websites are great for routes and timetables). Or if that sounds too much work, here are five of Europe’s best one-week rail trip ideas to get you started. All of the routes are possible in a week, but if you’ve got more time then you can take things slower and spend more time in each place. The idea isn’t to wear yourself out trying to see everything in every destination, but to take in some of the highlights and get a taste for each place (and if you love it you can always come back!).

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

The Flåmsbana scenic train in Norway

Northern Europe – Canals and chocolate

Start off in Amsterdam and spend a couple of days checking out the city’s canals, cafés and museums. Then take an early train on to the pretty Belgian city of Bruges (3 hours away). Spend the afternoon feasting on local chocolate and beer then next morning climb to the top of the Belfort tower or take a boat trip before catching an afternoon train to Paris (3 hours). You’re totally spoilt for things to do in Paris, so choose a few favourites to do over the next couple of days. Then take the train on to Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur, on the banks of the Rhine (5 hours). Spend the night in Chur then next morning catch the Bernina Express, one of Europe’s most scenic train journeys through spectacular Alpine scenery to Ticino in Italy, where you change to a local train to connect to Milan (total 7 hours). Then spend your last morning shopping and sightseeing in the Italian fashion capital before heading home.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Northen Europe

Though Northern Europe from Amsterdam to Milan

Italy – Palaces and pizza

Begin your trip with a couple of days in Venice – cruise the Grand Canal, get lost in the backstreets and brave the crowds at St Mark’s Square and the Doges Palace. Then take an early train to Florence (2 hours) and spend the afternoon gallery-hopping. Finish getting your fill of Renaissance art the next morning then take the short journey on to Rome (1.5 hours) for the afternoon. Spend the next day seeing the historical sights of Rome before travelling on to the gritty coastal city of Naples (1 hour 10 mins). Stuff yourself in the home of pizza and if you have time to spare you can catch the Circumvesuviana railway to visit nearby Sorrento, Herculaneum or Pompeii. Finish off with a couple of days on the island of Sicily – you can take the train all the way as it travels right on to the ferry for the 30-minute boat trip across the Messina Straits (takes 6 hours 45 mins to Taormina, 7.5 hours to Catania or 9 hours to Palermo).

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Italy

Through Italy from Venice to Sicily

Eastern Europe – Concerts and cake

Arrive into the Hungarian capital Budapest for a couple of days soaking up the culture, steaming in the thermal baths and partying in ruin pubs. Then catch a train on to Bratislava in Slovakia (2.5 hours), a compact city on the banks of the Danube. Spend the afternoon and next morning checking the city’s mix of 18th-century and Socialist-era architecture. Then travel on to Vienna in Austria (1 hour by train – or if you fancy a change from rail travel then the two cities are also connected by a boat along the Danube). Visit an ornate palace, catch a Mozart concert at the opera house and fill up on delicious sachertorte at a coffee house. Next travel on to Ljubljana in Slovenia (6 hours) for a couple of days exploring the charming old town, or you’re also only an hour by train from beautiful Lake Bled. Then end your trip in Zagreb, across the border in Croatia (2.5 hours), with a day visiting its museums, galleries and churches.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Eastern Europe

Through Eastern Europe from Budapest to Zagreb

Spain & Portugal – Paella and port

Start off in the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona and spend a couple of days checking out Gaudi’s handiwork and catching some rays on the beach. Then take an early train down the coast to Valencia (3 hours) where you have the afternoon and next morning to explore the city’s mix of ancient and modern architecture and try a paella where it was first created. Take a short train ride inland to the Spanish capital Madrid in the afternoon (1.5 hours) and spend the next day visiting its parks and galleries. Then catch the Lusitania overnight train that evening, leaving Madrid just before 10pm and arriving into Lisbon at 7.30am the next morning. Spend a couple of days in Portugal’s capital spotting street art and feasting on seafood – or you can take a short day trip to the palace at Sintra (30 mins each way). Then finally travel north to Porto (3 hours) to end with a day of port-tasting on the banks of the Duoro.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Spain and Portugal

Through Spain and Portugal from Barcelona to Porto

Scandinavia – Fjords and funiculars

Begin your route with a couple of day in the Danish capital Copenhagen – cycle around the cobbled streets and check out the design shops and Michelin-starred restaurants in Nyhavn. Then take the train over the Öresund Link bridge and tunnel into Sweden and on to Stockholm (5 hours). Spend a day exploring the city, from medieval Gamla Stan to the hundreds of islands in the archipelago. Then travel across the border to Norway and Oslo (6.5 hours) where you can get a dose of Scandinavian culture at the city’s museums and art galleries. Take the scenic rail route towards the coast next – first the mainline train to Myrdal (4.5 hours) and then the Flåmsbana mountain railway to Flåm (50 minutes). Spend the night on the edge of the fjords and take a cruise out into the Sognefjord before travelling on to Bergen the next day (2 hours). Finish off with a trip to the fish market and great views from the funicular to Mount Fløyen.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Scandinavia

Through Scandinavia from Copenhagen to Bergen

So which would be your favourite route? Get lots more inspiration for travel by train in Europe in the On the Luce ‘Rail Travel Ideas Book’, launching summer 2016.

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You don't need months to spare to see Europe by train – five of the best mini European rail adventures, with routes in Italy, Scandinavia and more – ontheluce.com


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Comments

    • says

      Thanks – there is definitely something a bit old fashioned about train travel but I think that’s part of the charm to sit back and soak up the scenery in comfort!

  1. Kalli says

    Hello! This was really informative and helpful! I love the maps. Can you give any approximate pricing for the tickets, or perhaps a website where I could look up the prices? Thank you!

    • says

      Hi, I would check out the Seat61.com website for some idea of prices (I’m currently working on an ebook with prices for these are more routes but it’ll be a few months yet!).

  2. says

    This post was so helpful for me! I am currently trying to plan a week/week and a half train travel trip in Europe and I think I might use your Eastern Europe trip route as a potential starter idea!

    • says

      So glad to came in useful – I really want to get back to that part of the world and see more of Slovenia and Northern Croatia, think a new rail route may be in order!

  3. Christina says

    Hi there! I’m creating a scrapbook for a euro trip I took this past summer. I love the design & look/feel of your blog. I was wondering how you create the graphic map images you use to route the trips. Do you use a website generator? Please let me know, as I’d love to include one of my trip in my scrapbook! :)

    • says

      Hi Christina, thanks so much, glad you like the blog and the maps! Afraid they were all custom drawn using Abode Illustrator (my day job is in publishing/design) – I don’t know if you’ve heard of the website Canva though as you can do lots of designs there, and could import a map and add your own captions and routes there.

  4. Stephanie says

    So I still haven’t figure out where I’m flying into, I think my best option will be to fly from one city and do the trains. A friend recommended to fly to Spain and take the train to Paris (which is the main event since it’s the city my sister wants to spend the most time in) I’m thinking of doing the Spain hiting Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, and doing the Paris, Amsterdam one, and somewhere in between doing London because that’s where I want to go

  5. says

    We are just back from an Interrail through Scandinavia and we suggest you not to stop in Oslo but go up to the north visiting Roros, Trondheim and then Bodo. Then one day break on a road trip to Narvik with stunning views between the fjords and again on the train to the swedish lapland… just magic!

  6. Dini says

    Hi Lucy.. very interesting information you have here. I am interested about Northern Europe – Canal and chocolate.. chocolate is my “thing”.. just wonder, can i do it backwards, from milan, chur, paris, bruges then last in amstedam?

    • says

      Hi Dini, yes that should work just as well – the only bit which is a at all fiddly is the connection between Milan and the scenic train to Switzerland but the Seat61 website has a good description of times and how to book (www.seat61.com/BerninaExpress.htm).

  7. Jeannie says

    Hi Lucy. I’ve travelled by train and car in Europe. I agree that train travel is much more relaxing for the driver but sometimes the scenery is much better on the roads. How’s the scenery on your itineraries?

    • says

      Hi Jeannie, there are some amazingly scenic stretches of train route in Europe – some like the Flam Railway in Norway and the Glacier Express in Switzerland are renowned around the world, but I like the lesser-known stretches too, especially through the mountains and along the coast. The bonus is that everyone gets to enjoy them too if no one has to drive!

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